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School Business Managers from the United Kingdom Observe the American Education System

Article about a visit to Pennsylvania by business managers from the United Kingdom

by Joe Savrock (October 2008)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – A group of nine education administrators from schools in the United Kingdom recently spent a week in south-central Pennsylvania examining how the American school system works.

Hartman_Simmonds_Shrom.jpg“They got a first-hand look at the business management system in America’s schools,” said William T. Hartman, Penn State professor of educational leadership. The visit was part of a reciprocal project aimed at giving business managers in both the United States and England an opportunity to understand how schools are managed in other nations.

Penn State is one of several entities that organized and sponsored the initiative. Others were the Lancaster-Lebanon Association of School Business Officials, the Pennsylvania Association of School Business Officials (PASBO), and the National Associations of School Business Managers (NASBM) in England.

The concept of reciprocal visits first surfaced in 2003, while Hartman was on a sabbatical leave in England. Hartman and Bill Simmonds, executive director of NASBM, envisioned a travel project that would yield insightful exchanges of knowledge and ideas.

UK Bursars Capitol Steps.jpg“Then this spring, I renewed Bill’s acquaintance at an international school business management conference in London,” says Hartman. “We rekindled the plan for UK bursars to visit the United States and a planned return visit from Pennsylvania business managers to the UK next spring.”

The UK contingent arrived Oct. 5 for their weeklong stay in and around Lancaster County. The group, consisting of seven bursars (business managers), the training director of NASBM, and Simmonds, participated in a broad range of activities.

They met with a number of alumni of Penn State’s Educational Leadership (EDLDR) program and EDLDR doctoral students, each holding an essential position in educational administration or state government:

•    Cynthia Burkhart ’00 D.Ed., executive director of Lancaster/Lebanon Intermediate Unit (IU 13);
•    Gerald L. Zahorchak ’94 D.Ed., Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Education;
•    Sen. James J. Rhoades, the Republican Majority Chair of the Senate Education Committee;
•    Tim Shrom ‘07 M.Ed., business manager of Solanco School District in southern Lancaster County and past president of PASBO; and
•    Bob Schoch ‘07 M.Ed., business manager of Council Rock School District and a national expert on energy conservation.

On their first day, the group visited IU 13, where Burkhart explained the unit’s mission and function. “This session set a context for what the guests would be seeing during the balance of their visit,” said Hartman. Hartman then did an overview of American education governance and finance. Later the group met with Shrom, who discussed the role of the typical U.S. business manager.

Hartman points out a major difference in the administrative practices of the two countries. “In the United Kingdom there is a business manager for each individual school,” he says, “unlike in the U.S., where a single business manager oversees an entire district. The UK doesn’t have school districts. The concept of a school district, with multiple schools, was an unfamiliar concept to our guests.” As part of the discussion, the bursars were amazed that a single business manager was able to serve so many schools. 

The UK contingent spent the second day in Harrisburg, the state capital. They made stopovers at the headquarters of both PASBO and the Pennsylvania Association of School Administrators (PASA). They also sat in on a session of the House of Representatives and were introduced on the floor of the House chamber. The group met with Zahorchak and discussed program initiatives. “They were very impressed with Sec. Zahorchak’s knowledge of the state’s education programs,” noted Hartman.

The contingent also held a session with Sen. Rhoades, who explained the processes of American politics. [Tragically, just one week later, Rhoades was killed in a vehicle accident.]

The visitors broke into smaller groups and spent several days with business managers at various school districts in Lancaster County and visited area schools. They were also treated to an afternoon tea at the Lancaster Country Club, where they learned about the legal system for schools and how facilities are financed in the United States.

On Friday, the group got a taste of the culture of Lancaster County. They visited the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and learned about local education-and-business partnerships. After a stopover at a downtown farmers’ market, the group paid a visit to a one-room Amish schoolhouse while class was in session. They observed a single teacher instructing about 40 students, ranging from first to eighth grade.

“The English visitors got to see the American education system at every level, from top to bottom,” noted Hartman, “from state legislation to the one-room schoolhouse.”

This year’s visit sets the stage for next spring’s anticipated reciprocal visit. Hartman says a return trip to England is being planned to allow American business managers to observe the schools and school business management operations there.

Hartman has helped organize and direct several prior visits by UK headteachers (principals) to the United States. The headteachers initiative won an Institutional Partnership Award from the University Continuing Education Association.